June 3rd, 2010

HP Kels writing

Books 41-45: Rebel Angels, Nation, Renaissance, and Sherman's March

41. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England From 1485-1649 by Kathy Lynn Emerson (280 pages)
42. Nation by Terry Pratchett (367 pages)
43. Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (558 pages)
44. The Deckchair Detectives by Martin Oliver and Paddy Mounter (48 pages)
45. Sherman's March by Cynthia Bass (273 pages) 

Bold: read it now! It’s great
Italics: run away! It’s awful
Plain Text = various degrees of OK

41. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England From 1485-1649 by Kathy Lynn Emerson (280 pages) A great, useful, and engaging reference book about everyday life during the Renaissance. That is, rather than the big historical events and figures, more about what normal life was like for all walks of life during the period. Covers entertainment, employment, beliefs, clothing, food, royalty to yeomen, city to country life, and technology and trade. Though not an easy straight-through read (more of a reference book), it is incredibly handy, chock-full of information, and brilliantly fascinating. I read it for background in preparation of Renaissance Faires, and I got a great feel for the period. This, after all, is what history is all about--the everyday world of the past. Grade: B+

"That's what the gods are! An answer that will do! Because there's food to be caught and babies to be born and life to be lived and so there is no time for big, complicated, and worrying answers!"
"One person is nothing. Two people are a nation."
"If a lie will make us strong, a lie will be my weapon."
"… a metaphor. A kind off lie to help you understand what's true."
"Religion is not an exact science. Sometimes, of course, neither is science."

42. Nation by Terry Pratchett (367 pages) Daphne, the 139th in line to the crown of England, is shipwrecked on an island after a tsunami wipes out everything. Mau finds his way back to the island after his coming of age ritual. Together, the "ghost girl" and the "savage boy" rebuild their world, and more importantly, their understanding of that world. Adolescence, as much as the wave, has shaken their belief and faith in their worlds. Daphne and Mau challenge the gods and their religion, as well as their ancestors and cultures, but eventually come to understand their traditions. It is a favorite theme of Pratchett's, that human beings need fantasy and beliefs. A refreshing, original, complex, and fascinating coming-of-age tale that deals with the metaphysical, philosophical growth. Difficult language, surreal humor, and complex and abstract themes make this a mature read (high school, at least), but a brilliant one. Grade: A-

 "He had to ask. He was dependent upon someone else's whim. It's a terrible thing to have no power of one's own. To be denied."

43. Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (558 pages)
In the second book of Bray's feminist Victorian England fantasy adventure, Gemma Doyle is spending the Christmas break at home in London, shopping and going to parties with her friends and flirting with the gentleman Simon. She also has to find the Temple in the realms and bind the magic, unravel the mystery of Circe (her mother's murderer and her enemy), and discover who to trust and who is her enemy. Though the book is a bit slow and clumsily written, Bray's Victorian fantasy is refreshingly beautiful (particularly the imagery of the realms) and investigative into female issues of empowerment. In fact, it contains one of the most complex cast of female characters of any young adult fantasy series. Women are victims of their own power, are abused for their power, are taken advantage of for their power, and worst of all, find their power denied. Gemma may be the one woman who understands her power and may be the one who can control it. Beautiful, symbolic, complex, and a strong second novel. Grade: A-

 44. The Deckchair Detectives by Martin Oliver and Paddy Mounter (48 pages) Cute, complex mystery for kids to solve with clever clues both in the story and within the pictures. Great for building analytical thought.

"War cannot be waged civilly, and still be a war."
"Nor did the presence of so much money and beauty do much to stop the process. The opposite, in fact: the existence of all that expensive loveliness in the middle of all this cruelty seemed to give instant and automatic permission to keep pushing further."
"Home, with all its multiple meanings--safety, security, an enclave from a harsh world, from even a good one--had failed me…Now I saw my home was vulnerable, penetrable. An event so small as a war could undo it."
"Some people might say it was glorious because we didn't win." "Well, those people would be fools."
"The only good thing about Vicksburg was it gave civilians a taste of what war's really like."

"There's no honor or reason in wartime."

45. Sherman's March by Cynthia Bass (273 pages) I'm not sure why Cynthia Bass isn't known as the greatest contemporary historical fiction writer. She definitely is in my book. Her brilliant Maiden Voyage is the greatest fictional account of the sinking of the Titanic. Sherman's March is tied with the brilliant Widow of the South as the greatest Civil War novel. Her novels are both powerful in their literary voice and theme, as well as in their unique perspective on historical events. Sherman's March tells the story behind one of the most infamous events of American history from the perspective of three people: General William Tecumseh Sherman, Nick Whiteman, a captain with a conscience in Sherman's army, and Annie Baker, a Southern widow who has lost everything to the invading Yankee army. The book relates the story behind the creation of the Special Order, Sherman's hatred of both the Southern way of life (both their Romantic ideals of glorious war and slavery) and the war itself. He decides to wage war on civilians in order that they may know the true meaning of war and in order to end the war quickly and with as little loss of life (that is, to wage war on materials rather than people). Nick Whiteman, though, reveals the March from the perspective of the soldier forced to wage war on civilians. But just as much as he is horrified by the new cruel heights of this war, he is equally horrified by the utter cruelty of slavery. Annie reveals the real dangers of waging war in this way: the creation of more cruelty. A refreshing Civil War novel that defends, but doesn't excuse, the worst of the North's behavior and pities the South without letting it escape any blame, taking a truly unique and refreshing perspective. It powerfully portrays history, at once in a deeply personal and human way, and also with an eye to the philosophical, ethical, and historical. Brilliant, amazing, thought-provoking, fascinating novel that I literally couldn't put down. Best novel I've read in a long, long time. Grade: A+

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Book 34 for 2010

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. 340 pages

This is a powerful and painful book to read. It tells the story of Amir, growing up in Kabul with his father and the son of his family's servant as a playmate and the events that shape their lives.

This book reminded me, in an odd way, of David Copperfield, in that I didn't care a great deal for the protagonist, but he was real enough to me that i occasionally wanted to slap him for his idiocy.

However much I disliked Amir at times though, the story was always compelling and the writing good, although I think perhaps the author was a little heavy-handed with the dramatic irony now and then. And I probably learned more about the history and culture of Afghanistan from reading this book than from all the news reports I've seen. I shall definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

Dead Dog Cat


I just finished another book by Allen Steele, this a compilation of a number of his "Near Space" stories, called Sex and Violence in Zero-G, which was generally pretty good; worth reading, especially if you liked R. A. Heinlein's short stories.